It is Thanksgiving again. I say again because we Canucks had one 7 weeks ago. Some of us, however, have a foot in that other country and so we have two.
Then today talking to my American daughter long distance, I fell to thinking about how family members trigger each other. Holidays bring this out in the best of families, although a casual conversation can do the job just as well. I had just had one of those and we were analyzing it. How could I have handled it better, we wondered. Possibly, I could simply have acknowledged to the trigger-er that I had been triggered. Then I wouldn’t have got that great come-back in, I mused.
At that moment, I came face to face with my anger.
It’s been several hours since then and I have had time to see some of its dimensions, although mostly they vanish into the distance only hinting at the monolithic scale of my rage. There are sound reasons for harboring such a monster. If it were purely personal I might even be able to let it go, but the abuse which engendered it was visited on those I loved as well, vulnerable small people that try as I might I could not protect.
Years of therapy have not actually made a dent in it, although I have pretended that it did and mostly packed it away.
I read once that Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk who had a dreadful war to teach him rage, said that we have to honour our anger.
That seems more sensible than the idea that we somehow have to get rid of it. Mosh plans, pounding pillows, clobbering punching bags, all they accomplish is fatigue enough to make you too tired to care. And they seem to establish the habit of expression. For me at least.
My anger is too great to let loose.
I can’t imagine the anger of the Jews who escaped to NYC, leaving all their relatives to die in the camps or the surviving Bosnians whose loved ones were butchered and thrown in rivers or any of the other genocide survivors. Or the anger of slaves, past and present.
Even the anger of those who helplessly watch what looks like the demise of democracy is hard to get the measure of, or the rage of those who see the life on earth in peril and idiots denying same.
Of course we can use our anger as an impetus to constructive action, but the supply is surplus to needs. So then what?
The Vietnamese monk tells me that if I see the suffering that motivates my enemy, my anger will dissolve. A long range strategy perhaps. I’m a slow learner.
Meanwhile, thank you anger. You are mine. You are valid and reasonable. You are inextricably part of me. Sit with me here on this stormy night as Thanksgiving dawns again.
I undertake not to use you to harm others and, by honouring you, I know I render you less harmful to my self.
Thank you. I tend not to verbalize my anger, but write it out, trying not to harm those who push it over the shallow brim of my reserve.
My celebration featured a drunken participant, not even related, who triggered me, thank you suffering, my old friend